Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wingra springs threatened by heavy pumping

Over the years, a number of springs on the shores of Lake Wingra have gone dry. Vigorous springflow is important, because it helps to keep Lake Wingra clean. Improved spring flow is part of the restoration plan for the lake.

The Odana Infiltration Project, costing over $2 million, was supposed to restore groundwater in the area by pumping stormwater into the ground. But now that project is in limbo, since it was found that the groundwater was being contaminated--over legal limits--from the salty runoff they were pumping.

Still, a number of springs in the area continue to flow--to the delight of residents in the area.

Western Council Ring Spring--a window into a healthy underground.

Now, heavy pumping of groundwater is occurring at two construction sites in the area:

Parman Place at Monroe & Glenway St

The contractor is Landgraf Construction.
The blue hose to the left is carrying the pumped groundwater.

Steve Glass sent me the following report:

You may have heard the recent report that excavation at the Parman's Place project has opened up a large underground water vein or spring (estimated flow rate of >50 gallons per minute, but no one will really know until it is measured with a pygmy flow meter).

According to reports, "the contractor is de-watering the site (under their de-watering permit related to petroleum contamination of the site) and diverting the flow into the sanitary storm sewer."

Also, according to reports, "the contractor expects that continuous pumping will be required to keep the sub-grade de-watered."
These reports and the possibility of continuous pumping raise numerous ecological and hydrological issues for the watershed, the lake itself, and the wetlands bordering it.

There are many unknowns. For example, scientists don't know with certainty the groundwater flow path, so the major question is how will this new spring opening impact existing ground water discharge rates and flow patterns? Increase them? Decrease them? No impact?

Ken Bradbury of the Geological and Natural History Survey has suggested (according to one source) that Parman's construction might disrupt flow to existing springs and pointed to the nearby Council Spring complex just off Arbor Drive in the Arboretum as a possible candidate for disrupted flow.

We have a record of recent flow rates (gallons per minute) for the past few years for the Council Springs complex and will be able to make some comparison of before and after flow rates.

"Continuous pumping" over many years--sounds like a big waste of energy. Could the groundwater be used for heating and cooling.... or for a beautiful fountain?

Next to Wingra Park behind Jac's restaurant

The contractor is Fisher Construction

At this second construction site, there is a lot of groundwater flowing into this excavation, requiring a lot of pumping. As required by law, the flow is being filtered through a large bladder resting next to Arbor Dr.

Water from the bladder is seeping into the storm sewer--hence it's lost from the ground and from the springs.

Another problem is that a lot of sediment is escaping from the bladder, and getting into the gutter. It's only a short distance to the lake. Sediment is the main way that phosphorus gets into lakes, to stimulate noxious weed growth.

Both problems--loss of groundwater and sediment--could be solved if the bladder can be moved to a depression in Wingra Park just across Arbor Dr. In that location (right), the water would return to the water table, and the sediment would be harmless.

 This construction site is violating regulations by leaving the streets very dusty and unswept after each working day.

The pumping at both sites is within a 1200 foot distance from the spring--and may therefore be subject to regulation.

 Teach-in at the springs

David Liebl led a group to the Council Ring Springs to talk about the issues, according to a post on alder Sue Ellingson's facebook site.

Below: East and west branches of the Council Ring Spring.

More photos of Wingra Park construction.
If you love the springs, make a donation to Friends of Lake Wingra.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The environment" is one product of the construction industry

The construction industry is Madison's largest heavy industry.

When you put up a building, you are creating a nice place to live or work.  You are also affecting the quality of where we live and work.  Nineteen percent of the phosphorus in our lakes comes from Dane County's constructon industry.

This is what Steve Jobs said about a product... your product:

"We've never worried about numbers. In the market place, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference. [...] Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM's ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that's all it is. You can't con people in this business. The products speak for themselves."

-- Playboy interview, 1985

How you treat the environment speaks volumes about the ethics of your business.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Nelson and Nelson Cement--illegal discharge of concrete waste

Left: Slurry escaping down gutter. Right: The "person responsible."
With two releases on two days, Nelson & Nelson is liable for...
fines of up to $4,000.

The contractor was politely notified that discharge was illegal after the first gutter spill.  When I appeared with camera during the second spill, they rushed to place dams, while denying it was illegal.

Discharge of concrete slurry--from washing chutes or cutting concrete--happens all over Madison.  But...

It's illegal  The details...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pickford St Reconstruction

The Pickford St project involves installing a new stormsewer, plus water mains and resurfacing.  The street in in an environmentally sensitive area, on a slope close to Lake Wingra.

On Aug. 8, there was a brief but heavy downpour, providing an opportunity to see how erosion control measures were working.

View uphill from Monroe St.  At first it seemed there was no escape of muddy water, at least on the surface.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not sustainable--the construction industry in Madison

Recently, the American Lung Association named Madison as one of the most polluted cities in the nation from particle pollution--dust and smoke.

There's construction all over downtown Madison.  Dust is being tracked onto streets every day, and is being blown out of construction sites on windy days.

Covering sources of dust

Findorff site before covering, & after. Click to enlarge.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Contractors--one cause of bad air in Dane County

Dust lofting from Findorff* site in downtown Madison.
Note concrete waste, right center.

The American Lung Association gave the Madison area** a failing grade for particle pollution in the air.  That's right, an "F."

Originally reported on WISC-TV, I decided to delve a little deeper.  It was hard to believe that little old Madison, the city of blue lakes, could be so polluted.

But it's true.  Here's what I found.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cattell dumps concrete waste to storm sewer

Concrete wastewater is extremely alkaline.  It can cause fish kills upon reaching lakes or streams.

While concrete waste is tightly regulated in some countries, it receives little attention in Wisconsin.  Nevertheless, discharging concrete wastewater into the storm sewers is illegal in Madison.

On June 3, white stains from concrete work by Raymond P. Cattell, Inc., were observed running down the gutter towards a sewer opening near Frances St.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Madison's air has high levels of particle pollution

Findorff construction site next to Kohl Center, 6/3/11.

The American Lung Association said the Madison area is one of the worst places in the country for particle pollution in the air, according to a new study.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Speedway releases concrete slurry to storm sewer

.          .          .
On or before April 24, Speedway Sand and Gravel was using a saw to cut concrete pavement on Highland Avenue.

Water is required to cool the saw--and the water, plus concrete dust, creates an alkaline slurry. The slurry is so alkaline that it can cause a fish kill, upon reaching the lake.

Madison General Ordinances prohibit releasing concrete wastewater to the storm sewer.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Landgraf continues abuse from concrete mixing

Mixing of mortar for bricklaying at Mendota Court
creates toxic dust and alkaline runoff.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My grandma was a good inspector

Grandma gets the dirt on Findorff and Tri-North
.               .               .
When Grandma visited, she'd wipe her finger across the mantle above the fireplace.  If there was any dust, your reputation as a housekeeper was finished.   Grandma believed there were signs--good indicators of how people behave.

 So it goes with contractors and erosion control.  During the last year of inspecting scores of construction sites, I've had a chance to test Grandma's method.  It holds up pretty well.

If a construction site looks sloppy and disordered, then there's a good chance the erosion control has been neglected.

The silt fence--causes of failure

.           .          .
The silt fence is one of the most effective BMPs at construction sites.  It acts as a dam along the perimeter of a site.  Water pools behind the dam, while sediment settle out.

However, in the year that I've been inspecting construction sites, I've seen a number of failures.  These failures can be serious, because the silt fence is usually the last line of defense.  Large amounts of impounded water and sediment can be suddenly released, causing a large sediment spill.

Inspectors should carefully inspect sediment fences, because they are so important, and because of ineffective installation, which is common.

When the fence fails, all that built-up water and sediment is released--causing a substantial "sediment spill."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Landgraf Construction dumps concrete wastewater to lake

Discharging concrete wastewater in the gutter is illegal.  The water is highly alkaline, and can cause a fish kill

Discharging such waste to the stormsewers is illegal in Madison.  The Department of Health writes up violations and passes them to the City Attorney for prosecution.

Landgraf Construction is mixing concrete products on-site at Mendota Court, just a block from Lake Mendota.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mid Towne Construction wastes salt, pollutes lakes and groundwater

Levels of salt are rising in our lakes and groundwater.  Salt use kills plants adjacent to roads and parking lots.  Salt attacks concrete.

When companies like Mid Towne Construction store salt improperly, they not only harm the environment--they are also wasting your money.

West Towne Mall, rear parking lot.

"Road salt use is a sleeping giant," said Roger Bannerman, DNR water resources management specialist. "The potential for chloride to damage our water systems is more inevitable than climate change."  More

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

University snow dump could threaten Madison's aquifer

The University's snow dump is located close to an old fly-ash dump.

The huge pile of melting snow on University property, near Picnic Point, is a potential threat to Madison's aquifer and water supply.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Future Barriques cafe on Park St caught in illegal pumping

Barriques is known for their distinctive cafes that also serve wine--at five locations in the Madison area.  A new store is being planned for 961 South Park St., where remodeling is underway.  It's at the corner of S. Park and Parr streets, less than a block from Monona Bay.  Environmentally, it's a sensitive location--Monona Bay is popular with fishermen.

On Wednesday morning a local resident noticed a crew pumping a large volume of cloudy water from inside the site being remodeled.  The water was flushed onto Parr St., where it flowed down the gutter and into a storm sewer, bound for Monona Bay.  The resident said he recognized the man supervising the pumping as one of the owners of Barriques.

Illegal pumping onto Parr St. from Barriques future location.

The resident notified DNR personnel, who then contacted Rick Wenta, Public Health and Environmental Protection, under the City's Health Department. 

Update 2/21, based on email from R. Wenta:
"Generally, water from inside a structure is considered waste water, which has to be discharged to the sanitary sewer. (There are some exceptions; foundation water is one example.)

There are no provisions for filtering, then pumping the waste to the storm sewer. Under the state plumbing code, a floor drain collects domestic wastewater which must be directed to the sanitary sewer.

Public Health Madison and Dane County is responsible for enforcing Madison General Ordinance 7.46 which states: it is illegal to discharge potentially polluting substances to the storm sewer."

Next, a truck for pumping septic systems drove onto the site and began work.  It wasn't clear weather their services had been previously planned by Barriques, or whether it was a response to the complaint.

That afternoon, Mr. Wenta inspected the scene of the illegal discharge.  When notified that the resident had photos of the illegal pumping, Wenta said he would forward the information to the City Attorney, and that the Health Department would press for a fine.

Toxic possibilities

What was in the water being pumped towards Monona Bay?

When I inspected the photos in photoshop, the water appeared cloudy and grey. This is consistent with concrete slurry--which results from cutting concrete with a saw, or cleaning up where concrete is being removed. Concrete rubble was being carried out of the Barriques location by a Bobcat, and loaded onto a truck labeled "Ken Wagner, the Concrete Remover, Waunakee, WI, 831-6355."

Click on photo to enlarge

Concrete washwater and slurry is extremely alkaline--enough to burn the skin.  Upon reaching Monona Bay less than a block away, it could cause a fish kill.  In New Zealand, such dumping is more closely regulated than in Madison, where mishandling of concrete waste is commonplace.  More on concrete waste.

Update 2/21: Mr. Wenta, who inspected the property after pumping ended, said he did not believe the cloudy water in the photo represented concrete slurry.

Neighbors are concerned about other toxic chemicals.  At least three shops were formerly located at the site...
  • A car radiator shop--heavy metals, antifreeze
  • An auto repair shop--oil, antifreeze, & other fluids
  • A furniture store with furniture repair--paint stripper (very toxic,) paint thinners, & lead
The resident who blew the whistle was worried about another possibility--that Barriques was pumping the sludge from the bottom of a drain trap--a concrete pit usually found in the floor of a building of this type.  If so, that sludge could be contaminated with any of the toxins listed above.

Recently, Madison had a scare when toxic Chromium 6 (at very low levels) was found in the City's tapwater.   Several years ago, a well on the near East Side had to be permanently shut down, because of industrial contamination.  Concrete waste and wastewater contains significant amounts of Chromium 6.

Lessons from the incident at Barriques
  • There may still be deposits of toxic chemicals lurking in old buildings.  Remodeling or demolitions must be done with care and with inspections.
  • Contractors and business owners--remember, citizens are watching.  Madisonians care about their lakes.

The illegal hose was returned to this truck.  Click photo to read plate.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Construction Co. Pays $60K Civil Penalty in Iowa

Manatt's is a private construction company hired to work on a portion of interstate in Iowa.

"Manatt’s approached the owner of private land adjacent to the I-35 construction project to seek permission to use material from the construction site to fill in approximately 1,000 linear feet of an unnamed tributary of White Breast Creek. Although the landowner agreed to the proposed activity, neither the landowner nor Manatt’s obtained a permit from the Corps of Engineers to allow the work within the stream and wetlands, as required by the federal Clean Water Act."

Manatt's unauthorized fill was spotted during a routine inspection by the Army Corps in 2009.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Speedway dumped hazardous waste in Lake Wingra

Misdeeds are sometimes revealed when bodies float to the surface... as happened recently at Lake Wingra.